This is our truth, tell us yours
The Sainsbury’s christmas ad seems to be creating a lot of debate, as people ponder whether donations to the British Legion outweigh a cynical attempt to sell turkeys and chestnut stuffing. I have even heard it argued that the ad is worthy because it informs children about the truce, as if the past year hasn’t turned them into walking encyclopedias of WW1 knowledge. I have to agree with Ally Fogg here, that if the ad were historical, if it showed the blood, guts, and horror of war. I might object to the commercialization less. Presumably the agency involved guessed that rats gnawing corpses of soldiers, or soldiers being threatened with court martial for fraternizing with the enemy, would not sell so well.
Listening to the radio this morning though another aspect was raised, not in the way the caller intended however. They defended the ad by saying that today, for Children In Need, other supermarkets would present large cheques to show they had a social conscience. Apparently in some strange world of twisted logic the fact an after school club only exists because Waitrose did a bag pack wearing bear ears is a good thing.
Children in need is the very worst pity porn, without the racism of red nose day it is true, no white saviours surrounded by grateful brown bodies. Instead it is about parading the abused, the crippled, the marginalized in front of us so we donate to salve our consciences. One of its most cynical acts is the way it puts on its tragedy films once the pubs shut, hoping that a combination of beer and sentimentality get people calling.
We live in a world where 363 days of the year the disabled are derided as scroungers, physically attacked, left to die without benefits. Then for one night we buy absolution. In the pub we agree that work shy lay abouts must be sanctioned, then return home to donate so a kid can have a new wheelchair, or a parent nearby when they are in hospital. We demonize those on sink estates, on benefits street, demanding tougher asbos, closing sure start, calling the police when a group of children play too noisily in the street. Then for one night we send them a fiver to keep a breakfast club running or take them on a trip.
The link to Sainsburys? We are being sold the lie of ethical capitalism, that we don’t need the welfare state or the safety net, that those with power and money will care enough to catch us when we fall. LArge companies benefit from this lie, it keeps their taxes low and their shareholders profits high. Carter wrote last weekend of his fear that the last 50 years were an aberration, that society believing it was the duty of the state to protect the weak and the vulnerable was being replaced by a return to Victorian philanthropism. When Sainsbury’s claim to care about wounded soldiers, or Tesco donate to run a children’s ward they are doing so in order to speed that transition along. Companies exist to make profits, the idea they can be moral or immoral is a fiction we are sold, like telling a child the dog has gone to the farm, to stop hard questions.